Employer Brand

4 TED Talks every forward-thinking employer and business leader should watch

Innovative and inspiring thinking from experts on diversity, leadership, financial wellness, and employee engagement.
Four stills from TED Talks featuring the images of the speakers: Janet Stovall, Michael C. Bush, Dan Schulman, and Simon Sinek

Today’s business leaders have a lot on their plates. In a time where the U.S. is facing a racial reckoning, and still navigating the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, expectations placed on corporations and the people who run them are shifting. Employees, and the public at large, are looking to business leaders to take charge and address issues like financial insecurity, systemic racism, and reduced quality of life. Here are four talks from experts on diversity, financial wellness, leadership, and employee engagement to help educate and inspire you to take action within your organization.

How to get serious about diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Janet Stovall knows how to make change happen when it comes to diversity, because she’s done it before. In 1984 while attending Davidson University, she issued a challenge to her school to improve diversity — in doing so, she highlighted real problems with real numbers, and attached real consequences. The initiative, called Project 87, was successful: The university surpassed its challenge to enroll 100 Black students, hire 10 Black professors, create five Black studies classes, and hire one Black dean.

In her talk, Stovall, who is an executive speechwriter for UPS, says companies can use this same framework to enact change. She also explains why it’s needed: Despite years of explaining how good diversity is for business, at the time of Stovall’s talk there were still only three Black CEOs in the Fortune 500. As she puts it, “The business case for diversity as it stands today isn’t really a problem. The only way business is going to get serious is if it has a problem that’s urgent and relative to somebody other than people of color.”

“You can mandate diversity, but you have to cultivate inclusion.”

Watch this talk for Stovall’s advice on how businesses need to frame this as a real problem, go beyond diversity mandates and achieve true inclusion with real numbers, and ensure it all happens by designating real consequences. By doing this, we can create a world where “the lessons we learn about diversity at work actually transform the things we do, think, and say outside of work.”

This is what makes employees happy at work

In his talk, CEO of Great Place to Work Michael C. Bush tells us that worldwide, three billion people are happy at work. But, 1.8 billion are not happy. This is meaningful because organizations with happy employees have three times the revenue growth of companies with unhappy employees; they outperform the stock market by a factor of three; and their turnover is half that of the competition. So what does it take to make employees happy? It’s not about ping pong tables or discounts on massages. It’s not about perks at all. It’s about trust, fairness, and listening in the workplace.

Bush cites companies like Four Seasons, where employees are told “do whatever you think is right when serving the customer.” That trust makes employees feel empowered, and this is why Four Seasons is known for delivering some of the best service in the world. He also uses Salesforce as an example of fairness — the company invested $3 million to make sure men and women with the same jobs were being paid the same money. Finally, Bush explains that listening isn’t necessarily about making eye contact and repeating what the person said to you. It’s about showing that what the person said matters to you with your actions — and he cautions that “employees can feel whether you’re doing it or not.”

What COVID-19 means for the future of commerce, capitalism, and cash

This talk with PayPal CEO Dan Schulman covers many topics, including the future of digital payments and how the financial services industry can help people who are underserved by traditional banking products. It’s an insightful conversation about the ways in which our society has been, and will continue to be, impacted by COVID-19. But at about the thirty-one minute mark, Schulman brings the conversation around to employee financial health. Specifically, he advises leaders that they “should know whether or not their employees have the wherewithal to be able to save and withstand financial shocks,” and if they can’t, take action.

“I think the number one responsibility that we have is the health — financial health — of our employees.”

Schulman opens up and tells the story about how at PayPal, despite practices of paying at or above market, workers were still struggling to make ends meet. This is when the company took action, adjusting pay by market to ensure that employees’ net disposable income (NDI) was high enough to put them back on track. As Schulman puts it, “you take care of your employees, and other things naturally flow from that. They are more productive. They love being part of a company. They take care of customers better.”

He wraps up by calling on business leaders to prioritize employees because it’s the right thing to do, and because it’s a competitive advantage. CEOs who embrace this sooner will be on the cutting edge of a new kind of business, participating in a new kind of capitalism: “There needs to be a set of CEOs and companies that start to move in this direction, and I believe you're beginning to see more do this. And once that happens, it starts to tip everything, and I think more and more need to do it to maintain their competitive positioning.”

Why good leaders make you feel safe

In this talk, management theorist and leadership expert Simon Sinek explains that in business, we sometimes get something very important backwards: We sacrifice others so that we may gain. In some organizations, the time, money, and health of employees are sacrificed all in the name of stronger business returns. Sinek calls for leaders to reject this premise, and put people first, thereby cultivating an environment filled with trust and cooperation. Leaders who embrace kindness and compassion end up with teams that are willing to work hard — even make personal sacrifices — because they know their leader would do the same for them.

To make his point, he uses the example of Paleolithic humans, navigating a world filled with danger such as hunger, cold, and tigers. To survive, they banded together for protection and built bonds of trust. In the modern business world, we have dangers too — but that trust needs to be there for us to survive. When employees feel safe, they will readily combine strength and talent, and work tirelessly to conquer the “dangers” that the business faces. In short: “When a leader makes the choice to put the safety and lives of people inside the organization first … so that people remain, and feel safe, and like they belong, remarkable things happen.”

Bold change takes big ideas

As our world continues to change at breakneck speed, the businesses that want to thrive, not just succeed, will need to change quickly too. The status quo when it comes to diversity, quality of life, and executive leadership might keep businesses afloat for a while, but it won’t catapult them to the top of any lists — and it won’t do employees any favors, either. The talks above are just a sampling of the bold, inspiring ideas companies like yours can use to start implementing changes that will help your business, your employees, and the world.

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